Why is Plastic Harmful? 6 Ways You Can Help with Plastic Pollution

What is plastic and how is it made? 

Without getting too technical into the chemistry process of making plastic, Plastic is a broad term for a group of materials that can each be composed of varying molecules.

Not all plastic is created equally and can be categorized into natural and synthetic plastic which is made up of polymers.

Natural polymers can be made through extracting materials that are naturally occurring such as wood, silk, cellulose, and proteins.

Synthetic polymers are made from petroleum oil and are commonly used to produce nylon, polyester, and polyethylene. 

Disposing of Plastic

Synthetic plastics are created to be more durable and are the most common plastic we see. These plastics are difficult to break down and have created pollution in all areas of our earth, even the most remote locations such as Henderson’s Island, which is uninhabited.

The majority of plastic created isn’t disposed of responsibly and cannot be recycled so someway down the line plastic is either dumped or blown into our waterways

Micro-plastics

While plastic itself is detrimental to our environment, micro-plastic is a huge issue we are still learning about. Larger plastic pieces can decompose into smaller micro-pieces that are harder to trace.

Plastic pieces less than 5 millimeters are considered to be microplastic, and can easily be swallowed by animals, contaminate our drinking water, and are even found within the air we breathe.

A recent study shows US tap water had a microplastic contamination rate of 94%. 

How to Reduce Plastic Pollution 

1. Reduce the amount of single-use plastic you consume

The best way to help with the current state of the plastic crisis is by not contributing to more plastic waste. While it is easier said than done, there are many small changes you can make that really will make a difference over the course of a year, especially if thousands of people are making these switches.

Simple swaps could include bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store, carrying your own to-go cup, trading plastic wrap for containers, switching to a safety razor and using a bamboo toothbrush. 

2. Recycle any chance you can 

While every region has different restrictions on what items can and cannot be recycled, there are still many products that can be added to your blue bin.

Disposable razors cannot be recycled because of the many mixed materials they are composed of.

It’s important to try and separate different materials within an item and always make sure to clean them before placing them in recycling. Dirty recycling is a large contributor to contaminating tons of materials that could be repurposed.

Close to 1 of 3 pounds of recycling is wasted by being placed in the wrong bin or not properly cleaned first. 

3. Purchase quality made goods 

The best thing you can do when purchasing brand new items is to make sure the items you are purchasing are made to last. It is more environmentally friendly to purchase one item that will last you for 10 years versus buying the same item every 10 months.

The cost per use drops significantly when factoring how often the item is of use.  If you spend $150.00 on an item that will be used three times a week, it will pay for itself in 1 year.

When you purchase items such as disposable razors that will be thrown out regularly, you are throwing away money and contributing to waste production. 

4. Use what you have first 

Before you head to the mall or amazon to buy that new gadget or face serum, look at what you already own. It’s important to use what you have first, your wallet will even thank you.

To avoid purchasing an item you do not need, I’d recommend making an inventory list of how many of the item or category of items you already own. This will help you understand what items you have plenty of and what items you actually need. 

5. Buy second hand 

Almost any item you need can be purchased secondhand. With the trend of overconsumption, everything you need has already been created and is on it’s way to a landfill.

The average life of a garment in most closets is between 2 and 3 years according to the International Textile Fair Claims Guide, but the textile itself can take up to 200 years to breakdown depending on its material.

Synthetic materials such as polyesters, spandex, nylon, and acrylics can release microplastics into our waterways so it is best to avoid purchasing these materials brand new. 

6. Participate in beach cleanups 

Any plastic that has been created, isn’t going anywhere. Because plastic can takes hundreds of years to decompose, any garbage ever thrown into our lakes and oceans is probably still there.

A great way to help with the plastic pollution once taking all the steps to lessen consumption would be to clean the mess that has already been made.

Shoreline cleanups are a great way to not only help the environment and wildlife but gain a sense of appreciation for your community.  

While we’ve focused on the negatives of plastic and what you can do to avoid it, Plastic isn’t always bad. There are many benefits to plastic in different industries. The key is eliminating single-use plastic that is not necessary and finding alternatives to replace these items whenever possible. 

If you are considering swapping your plastic razor for a recyclable safety razor, check out our previous post on the reasons people are switching to Rockwell Razors





Resources 

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/donated-clothing-where-it-ends-up-1.4662023

https://www.forbes.com/sites/grrlscientist/2018/04/23/five-ways-that-plastics-harm-the-environment-and-one-way-they-may-help/#4f56335a67a0

https://plastics.americanchemistry.com/How-Plastics-Are-Made/

https://www.cmu.edu/gelfand/education/k12-teachers/polymers/natural-synthetic-polymers/

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals

https://orbmedia.org/stories/Invisibles_plastics/

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